Policeman at My Door

Or ‘What Not to Wear When You Answer the Door in Japan’

ひさしぶり!Long time no see!

I am heading into my third week in Japan and I have yet to slow down. I have survived the Tokyo Orientation, settled into my new apartment, attended my first welcome party/nomikai (drinking party), and bought my first car. Tomorrow I head to Saga City for a four day Language Boot Camp and then a Prefectural Orientation; and some where in between all of that is the Takeo BBQ! Not to mention the Dragon Boat Races are fast approaching.

But in between the hectic schedule as a new ALT life has its slow moments of rest. These moments allow me to ponder how I will mukade/spider/roach-proof my apartment, read the kanji on my new rice-cooker, and why I can’t remember that I’m not in “Kansas” anymore when I open the door.

The last one happened this afternoon.

I have taken American attire/fashion etc. for granted. When it’s hot it is totally normal to wear jean shorts and a thin strapped tank top or even a just a sports bar. American Business Casual –  or Cool Biz in Japan – has now become just casual. And at the end of walking home from half-days at the Board of Education in 90°F/33°C weather with 90% humidity I am ready strip out of my slacks and dress shirt and melt in front of my AC in shorts and a tank.

But I should really remember to throw on a t-shirt when I answer door, because today it was a policeman knocking and boy did I feel under dressed.

Japan is – to generalize – a fairly conservative country. This is especially true for dress codes. Some of this is due to protect the body from the sun as a pale complex is consider more beautiful while the opposite is true for the USA (once again a generalization on both accounts). It is common for me to see woman wear long arm covers with a t-shirt or even a sweater and large hat on hot sunny days. The other side of this is that you dress formally (full suit and tie) for formal meetings with important persons. The latter is true in the USA as well but variety and individuality of formal style is flexible.

So answering the door in shorts and tank is “okay” but odd and very noticeable as a foreigner – the same situation occurred last week when NHK dropped by asking if I had a TV.

Luckily the policeman was nice and spoke a little bit of English but he threw out some terms I didn’t know so I grabbed my neighbor and fellow ALT Jess who has been acting as a guide and proxy translator. Turns out I wasn’t in trouble and his check in was procedural. With new tenants in the neighborhood the police check who and how many people live the house/apartment. They record names, nationality, occupation, birthday, and phone numbers. This might seem odd for foreigners but please consider that foreigners are required by law to carry official identification such a a passport or Zairyuu Card (Foreign Registration Card) and can be stopped and checked at any time.

I was lucky to have a friend who spoke Japanese with me or the situation would have been more confusing. The policeman was kind and courteous and went on his way after we filled out the form. He was sort of surprised to learn we were all English Teachers/ALTs.

Hopefully next time I remember to double check my attire when I answer my door to avoid further foreigner awkwardness.

Until Next Time!


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